Student group solidifies plans for service trip to Indian village

Kelly Hwu

Members of Northwestern’s Project Rural India Social and Health Improvement will travel to the northern Indian village of Charniya in August to gather data on building a sustainable health care clinic in the community.

Project RISHI, a national organization that began in California, consists of six chapters. NU is the only college outside of California to have started its own chapter.

Weinberg senior Manisha Bhatia is one of the co-founders of NU’s Project RISHI, which started in the spring of 2011.

“Our overarching goal is to make some sort of change and to hopefully create a sustainable clinic,” Bhatia said. “Health is a priority for them.”

Of the group’s 40 members, 13 will head to Charniya this summer. The group plans to leave Aug. 24 and come back to the United States on Sept. 6. Last summer, three members of NU’s Project RISHI traveled to India to explore the area and get more information about potential sites.

“We are doing really intense surveys on what they need,” Bhatia said. “It could be preventative health schools or maybe mobile clinics, so we’re very open.”

The group decided on Charniya because one of the founding members had a connection with a religious figure there, Bhatia said. Members also found the town to be the most receptive to Project RISHI’s help. Bhatia said villagers in Charniya only go to the hospital when they absolutely need to, as opposed to going for routine check-ups.

The organization started accepting applications for the summer trip in the middle of January. The group restricted applications to Project RISHI members only. Bhatia said because 13 students applied, the group was able to accept all the applicants for the trip.

“We didn’t want students who were interested in health in general, but who were specifically interested with the region we’re concerned with,” Bhatia said.

In India, the NU group will host health care “camps” where local doctors will volunteer and teach villagers about ophthalmology, maternal and child health and internal medicine, Bhatia said. She said the group also plans to spend five days in the community going door-to-door conducting health surveys with villagers. In the evenings, the group will host a lecture and discussion series. They will go over basic preventative medicine, such as showering and brushing teeth, and share hygiene tips along with suggestions for pregnant mothers on how best to prepare for childcare. Topics in health and nutrition, specifically malnutrition and diabetes, will also be covered.

“Charniya is made up of farmers and industrialized workers, but the farmers are better off, so there’s a nutritional divide,” Bhatia said.

Another group will be working on developing literacy games and activities for the kids when they visit orphanages.

NU’s Project RISHI has held small fundraising events such as selling samosas and collaborating with the restaurant Cosi, which donated part of its proceeds to the group. The majority of the funds will be acquired from the members’ hometowns. One founder asked for donations from her high school for the summer project.

The group will set aside a portion of its funds to buy care packages for families who take the time to fill out their surveys. Money will also go toward buying medicine and distributing it to local pharmacies. The group wants to reach $5,000 before it leaves for the trip.

McCormick freshman Chintan Pathak will attend the summer trip, and his job includes gathering surveys and educating children in the village.

“I went to the first meeting and I thought it was kind of interesting, kind of different,” Pathak said. “I went to India with my family before, but this time will be different because I will see it from a different perspective.”

Weinberg sophomore Maitreyi Sistla will also attend the summer trip due to her interest in global and public health.

Sistla said the site for a potential clinic has been identified, but the group still needs more money to hire doctors and pay for medical equipment.

“This summer will be a total different life experience being in a completely different part of the world,” Sistla said.

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